Robinson Fredenthal‘s “On the Rocks” in its current resting place, awaiting installation in Woodmere’s outdoor sculpture garden.

By William Valerio

Over these last few months, with so much on our minds, all of us at Woodmere have been hoping that while our galleries remain closed, our community can find solace in Woodmere‘s Outdoor Wonder (WOW), an integrated experience of sculpture and nature across out grounds.

Visit the sculpture and nature exhibition page for a self-guided tour and map, or pick up a hard copy map on the Museum‘s front porch.”

Last week, I wrote about Steve Tobin‘s astonishing Root, which recently arrived on our grounds. Today I write about another outdoor sculpture making its debut: Robinson Fredenthal‘s On the Rocks (1972). Thanks to “White Water,” the arc of cascading triangles by the same artist we installed last year at the corner of Bells Mill Road and Germantown Avenue, Woodmere has become associated with this great sculptor’s work.

Like White Water, On the Rocks demonstrates Fredenthal’s extraordinary gift for making geometric relationships seem to grow in three dimensions. Despite being noticeable mathematical symmetries, the shapes shift and change dramatically when viewed from different angles. The two sculptures also reveal the artist’s interest in reinterpreting the traditional monumental form: while White Water is a triumphal arch, On the Rocks is a tower—the Column of Trajan to White Water’s Arch of Constantine.

“On the Rocks” at its original location: Roger Wilco discount liquors on Route 73 in Pennsauken, NJ.

Why the title On the Rocks? The piece was commissioned for Roger Wilco discount liquors on Route 73 South in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and was installed there until about a year ago, when the store expanded and needed the space where the sculpture stood at the roadside, beckoning drivers in. For now, On the Rocks rests on its side at the end of Woodmere‘s parking surface, waiting to be installed upright. It still cuts a potent shape in the landscape. It was also meant to tower over a circle of Pennsylvania bluestone boulders, which we will reconstruct.

On the Rocks has a sense of humor, for sure, but it also offers a dialogue between the human urge to construct towers in space, building onward and upward, and the basic geological elements–the rocks—that formed in the earth over millions of years. The surface of the sculpture is beautifully aged Corten steel with a rich, earthy patina that becomes red in sunlight.

For now, while it lies horizontal, you can see something that hasn’t been visible since it was erected 45 years ago: the top surface of the sculpture, not visible from the ground, has a porthole-like hatch that was required for the installation. The 17 people who fabricated it — one of whom is called “Pickles” — signed the top, welding in their names in script for only the birds to see.

William Valerio is the director and CEO of Woodmere Art Museum.

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